I am so thrilled to showcase Parks Creek Retreat today on the blog! I know many of my Arrow It Forward readers were instantly looking for more details after I overloaded Instagram with heavenly pictures during my recent stay. Becky Moore is a girl with vision! She is aiming her arrow and aiming it high. I was fortunate to spend time with my family at this hidden gem of a getaway, which is located just a bit north of Belleville, Ontario (we visited at prime lilac time and I was in heaven even on the drive there!) Becky and her family have already done so much to create a truly special place, but when she walked me through their future plans I was even more impressed. People are craving getaways like this, a place where families and companies alike will fall in love with the surroundings at first site and cherish moving forward as repeat visitors. Becky does an amazing job painting a picture for you to get a glimpse into what it is like to stay at Parks Creek Retreat and what it is like to run an Airbnb. She is an inspiring and hardworking mama, an entrepreneur at heart, and a big heart at that!
Describe the feeling when you first visited the property? Did you have an instant feeling that this place was going to be a special part of your life?
I actually felt an instant sense of calm and peacefulness as soon as I pulled down the drive. The sounds of the babbling creek and the song birds in the trees, combined with the sights of beautiful timber frame structure and natural landscape came together to create a ‘this is our new home’ moment. I forgot everything else on my to-do list and spent a few hours touring the property and relishing in every little detail with the homeowner, Lisa. When my husband came for the next visit, he experienced the same feelings and we just knew that we had to make this work. We became fast friends with Lisa and she even stays with us on her visits home from Roatan. The stars definitely aligned for us and the entire experience was one of those rare ‘meant to be’ moments in life.
Was the plan always to set up the space as an Airbnb? Is it hard to share what many have come to call a “hidden gem?”
It definitely wasn’t the plan when we first purchased the house, but as time went on it felt as though it was being wasted on just us. We were so busy living life that we forgot to enjoy the beauty surrounding us, but every time a friend or family member visited we were able to experience the beauty of the landscape through their eyes and all of those initial feelings became fresh again. From these experiences with friends and family, it felt like a natural progression to start sharing the space as a vacation rental.
Sharing the space feels natural to us now, but it can also at times be difficult, especially because the kids still think of it as home and are still too young to understand the purpose behind it. The bonus now is that we get to book holidays at our own house and really enjoy the time that we do get to spend here, reconnecting with each other and with nature, just as we hope our guests do during their visits.
Tell us about the area surrounding Parks Creek Retreat! What are some fun day trips people can indulge in while staying there?
If you can tear yourself away, there are so many great things to do in the area. Of course there is the Sandbanks Provincial Park (a day pass is included with your booking!) and the many beautiful wineries, breweries, restaurants and boutique shops in Prince Edward County. You could definitely spend an entire day touring wineries like Hinterland or The Grange Winery and craft breweries like County Road Beer with County Sips or PEC Brew Tours. There are also so many amazing restaurants offering locally grown and prepared foods, a favourite being The County Canteen. Also make sure to look up Beyond the Vine, an immersive wine/food tour and event company right in Prince Edward County! For all you shoppers, the day wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Oak Clothing Company and Surfer Girl.
For our adventurous guests, you can’t miss a tour of the Tyendinaga Caves, which is Ontario’s oldest cavern with 300 million year old fossils! We also recommend a kayaking or canoeing adventure down Parks Creek with our friends at Cruising Canoes or a trip to Vanderwater Conservation Area to experience the waterfalls and fishing.
There are also live theatres in Belleville and Stirling, lots of beautiful antique stores to visit, shopping (my favourite is Black River Trading on Highway 7), dining and hiking, as well as concerts and festivals throughout the summer in the surrounding area. We provide our guests with a binder full of day trip ideas, organized by type of activity, complete with maps.
What’s your favourite part about running an Airbnb? Do you think it takes a certain type of personality?
My favourite part is definitely meeting so many new people and seeing their faces when they take it all in for the first time. Seeing the expressions of calm and relaxation in our guests’ faces makes me feel so grateful that I have the opportunity to share this space and experience with them. Hopefully, their stay with us will live in their memories forever and I get to a part of that; that in itself is pretty special.
I believe that it does take a certain personality to run an Airbnb and Retreat. In every aspect of it, from answering inquiries, to preparing the space, attention to detail is very important. I hear the term ’good enough’ all the time, but for me, this is not something that I say or believe in. I also strongly believe that someone may not notice that something is done, but they will certainly notice if it isn’t. By this I mean that a guest may not notice if you cleaned the glass on the front door, but they will most definitely notice if there are two grubby little handprints four feet up. This also works the other way. Guests may not notice that you didn’t leave a bottle of wine for them, but they certainly will notice if you do! I am always striving for the best and always trying to go above and beyond expectations for our guests in order to give them the best possible vacation experience.
The Airbnb booking platform really is a global community that welcomes all people, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual preference. In addition to being accepting and welcoming to all, there is also an unspoken, but prevalent requirement for hosts to be friendly, outgoing and caring. Even though there are millions of Airbnb hosts and destinations worldwide, Airbnb practices what it preaches, by reaching out to hosts who exemplify these traits and reward them for it with unique and thoughtful gifts. I was actually unaware of this until today when I received a package on my doorstep from Airbnb thanking me for my amazing hospitality and for providing my guests with wonderful experiences. This gift made me feel special, just like I hope my guests feel when I go the extra mile to make their stay memorable.
Why do you think more and more people are seeking out places like yours instead of a typical hotel stay?
I believe that there are a few issues at play here. Firstly, technology has led us into this very strange existence where we are all so easily connected to one another at the touch of a button, yet we are also completely disconnected emotionally and physically. I touched on this earlier, but it is at the heart of the Airbnb community. Because of this disconnection people are craving real, meaningful contact and lasting connections.
A hotel stay is impersonal and disconnected. First you click some buttons to book a room that could be cut and swapped for any other hotel room in the city. Then you check in with a fake smiling front desk clerk who won’t remember your name or face as soon as the clock strikes 4. These types of meaningless interactions continue throughout your stay during trips to the hotel restaurant and pool. To the staff members, your face is interchangeable with every other face at the hotel, and no one will ever care if you return again. No personal connections have been made, no one has made you feel special or important and you checkout feeling just as disconnected as when you checked in.
For Airbnb guests, from the moment an inquiry is made, travellers are connected to a real person, someone with a real name and a real personality. As an Airbnb host, one of my goals is to create a lasting relationship with our guests. From our initial point of contact, during their stay and after their departure, I am available to answer any questions, make recommendations and to help in any way that I can to make our guests stay comfortable and memorable. I meet all of my guests at the door and give them a walkthrough in order to ensure they are comfortable and to let them know I am always available. I make a connection with them, and they value this.
Secondly, a hotel is simply a tool; a place to rest your head while the actual experience takes place elsewhere. The experience is the beach, Disneyworld or the Casino; a place that you have to travel to from the hotel and spend money at. Between eating out and rushing to and from these experiences, you end up arriving home afterwards feeling exhausted and broke, trying to remember what you actually experienced and if it was really worth it.
In contrast, Parks Creek Retreat is an experience in itself with all of the amenities of home and all of the added perks of a spa. When guests arrive here, they only have to bring their clothes, drinks and fresh foods; everything else from linens to indoor and outdoor toys (for kids and grown-ups) and from ketchup to flour, everything is provided. In addition to this, we also have a hot tub, natural swimming hole, a skating rink in the winter, hammock, swing bed, three season screened room (soon to be a four season room!) with a fire table and wrap around couch, a custom indoor/outdoor stereo system, a theatre room with hundreds of movies to select from, a jacuzzi tub, hiking trails and so much more. These features, combined with the relaxing atmosphere of the house and the beautiful, natural landscape encourages our guests to relax and simply spend time together creating memories. So while there are so many great places to explore in the local area, there really is no pressure to leave the property or urgency to fill time, because Parks Creek Retreat is a full vacation experience in itself.
I want to be sure to let people know that you have three daughters UNDER FOUR! How do you manage to keep Parks Creek Retreat in such immaculate condition?
Parks Creek Retreat wouldn’t be possible without lots of help. I may be the face behind all of this and responsible for the daily operations and direction of the Retreat, but I could never do what I am doing if it wasn’t for all of the help I get from our family.
I do bring the kids when it is feasible, but a lot of the time I don’t bring my almost four year old or two year old with me because they are a couple of little tornadoes that can tear apart one room while I am cleaning another. So I am very fortunate to have both sets of grandparents, as well as both of my brother’s families very close by to help take care of the ‘big girls’, while I go to the house to prepare for our guests, or to lend a hand with bigger jobs when I need it. I can’t begin to thank them all enough, especially Nanny and Grammy, who take such good care of them and have really given us all second homes.
Our seven month old is still nursing, so she is my tiny sidekick. She is a little ray of sunshine and has a very easy going nature. She happily plays on a blanket while I clean bathrooms, or naps on my back in the carrier while I vacuum or mow the lawn. She is in the carseat a bit more than she would like I am sure, but she rarely complains and I am very thankful for her company and her happy personality.
My father-in-law is a very skilled carpenter, so I have been putting him to work building a new bunk room for us. I can’t wait to share some pictures of the renovation that he has been working so hard on. He is also always happy to help with anything, from hanging headboards to gutter cleaning, and I am sure that I don’t tell him enough how grateful I am to have him!
My husband works with heavy equipment and really has an eye for aesthetics and incorporating unique features into a space. He has been working on design ideas for a landscaping project that will include a barrel sauna, cold bath and timber frame gazebo complete with pizza oven and fireplace. Among other things, he has also been hard at work cutting trails through our 18 acres for our guests to enjoy. He has been an integral part of Parks Creek from the start and I am grateful for his ideas, input and unceasing support.
I think it is important for people to know that being an entrepreneur isn’t synonymous with working alone. It definitely starts with having a vision, and working hard from the ground up, but it is also a lot of collaborating and creating a team that you can trust and rely on to help make your vision a reality. We all have our strengths, but we can’t all be strong at everything, so having a well rounded team is very important in business.
Some people might not realize it, but there is more to running an Airbnb, than just keeping a space clean and inviting. Behind the scenes there are booking platform listings to maintain, inquiries and questions to answer from potential and booked guests, which happen at anytime of day, regardless of diaper changes and squabbles over who gets the purple cup. Airbnb rates you based on your response time, giving you priority search rank, so I have to be available at all hours, not just during a space of time that I have carved out during the day to work. Making this work and finding some balance is definitely something I struggle with everyday.
I also like to keep my listings up to date with new content and pictures and I also have an Instagram and Facebook page, so I am constantly taking pictures to share on these platforms. This in itself sometimes feels like a full-time job, but both are very good avenues for getting Parks Creek Retreat in front of potential travellers and also for making local and global connections. I have made some invaluable connections through Instagram and I am looking forward to further growth from it.
Trying to find a balance between work and family is one of the toughest things parents deal with on a daily basis, so if anyone ever works out the magical equation, be sure to let me know!
What special touches do you focus on to make sure your visitors have a unique experience?
Running an Airbnb and Retreat really is all about the finer details. Of course bigger details, like comfortable beds and linens are really important, as are plush towels and a fully stocked kitchen, but going the extra mile to help out our guests is really important. We had guests stay last Thanksgiving for their annual ‘Friendsgiving’ and they were so thrilled to hear that we had essentials such as a gravy boat, large serving trays and all the oils and spices they could ever use. While they may not have told their friends that they found poultry spice in the cupboard, they most definitely told them that I arranged for the turkey farm up the road to deliver a fresh, free range turkey on the same day as they planned to cook it.
During the initial emails back and forth prior to a guest’s stay, I try to get to know who is coming to spend time here. Are they a young couple with kids and their out of country grandparents, a group of friends meeting at the halfway point between Montreal and Toronto, a corporate group, a bachelorette (yes we have had two successful stays with both a bachelorette and bachelor party!) or a newlywed couple? With these details in mind I always prepare a welcome basket for our guests. If there are kids coming I might include some treats and a colouring book or bubbles; if they are newlyweds, I will include a bottle of wine and some baked goods; for men I like to include craft beer and chips. I try to make each welcome basket unique and tailored to each group. I also have a chalkboard sign by the entryway that I write on welcoming our guests by name. From the comments our guests leave in our guest books, I know that these thoughtful touches are really appreciated and make them want to share their experience with others and return again.
When visitors leave, how do you hope they are feeling?
When our guests leave I want them to feel relaxed and refreshed. I want them to feel like they have recharged their batteries and are ready to take on whatever challenges life throws at them because they have had the time to relax and reflect on the things that are really important to them.
Through sharing this space, we are providing people with the opportunity to disconnect from the increasingly fast paced society we live in, where people are always expected to be connected and available. The natural landscape and peaceful atmosphere of Parks Creek Retreat encourages people to ‘disconnect to reconnect’; to disconnect from the demands of everyday life and work; and to reconnect with themselves, their family and friends, and also with nature.
Living in a large city surrounded by concrete and skyscrapers makes it easy to forget that we share the Earth with trees, plants and wildlife, but coming here reminds people of this. In fact, a bride visiting us before her wedding this past May told me that she was really looking forward to star gazing because ‘there are no stars in Toronto.’ Just like so many others that visit us, this bride was able to reconnect with something she had been missing; the stars, which inspired her to finish writing her wedding vows.
It is very important for all of us to make the time to escape from the daily grind and to remember that we aren’t here to just make a living. We are here to have experiences and live a wonderful life, so whether you are able to take a year to travel the world or two days to visit a place like ours, just do it, and I promise you that you will return home feeling relaxed and inspired. And every time you look at your beautiful Parks Creek Retreat wood slice keychain, you will be reminded to slow down and #retreattothecreek.
What’s new on the horizon for 2017?
So far 2017 has been really exciting! We are continuing to work on some landscaping and hiking trails, which will allow our guests to explore 18 acres of forest and many different beautiful tributaries of Parks Creek, all without having to leave our property.
The addition of the new bunk room has allowed us to comfortably accommodate four more guests in a private room. The other bedrooms have also received a facelift; one with a brand new bed and headboard that I repurposed from an antique door and the other one, my driftwood inspired room, has a new headboard and has been decorated to reflect the calm of the creekside and driftwood treasures that we have found right here at Parks Creek Retreat.
We are also going to be installing a beautiful new piece of granite in the kitchen, along with a new sink and taps, as well as a new backsplash. I am very excited to witness this makeover and I am sure that my Instagram page will be filled with pictures of it!
Aside from these physical changes, we are also expanding to include Corporate and Yoga Retreats. I have booked our first two Corporate groups in June, as well as our first Yoga Retreat in September, which will be lead by Kelli at Holistic Rain. I also have a second and third Yoga Retreat on the horizon. As well, I am in collaboration with a few amazing women to hold a retreat, focusing on female entrepreneurs, which will provide an intimate space to brainstorm, collaborate and make connections with other like-minded women. It will feature a couple of guest speakers and many other fun activities with the aim of supporting and giving direction to women who are currently trying to start a business, monetize a side hustle, grow an existing business, or simply make some new friend with similar goals. As soon as the details are finalized they will be posted on our Instagram and Facebook pages.
I am also looking for people to connect and collaborate with, in order to align ourselves with outstanding products and consumables. As everything we do and share reflects on our reputation, I am a firm believer in providing our guests with the best possible products. I also believe that our space is a great place for people to experience products that we believe in and that they might not have the opportunity to experience otherwise. With the capacity to reach thousands of travellers each year in an intimate setting like this, it is the perfect space to fall in love with a new wine, coffee bean, hand lotion or body scrub.
Beyond 2017, I am also continuing to work on a business plan in order to secure funding that will allow us to transform the detached garage into a devoted yoga studio and corporate conference room. The upper level will also house four bedrooms and a bathroom, increasing our total capacity to 30 people. Future plans also include a treehouse and bunkies that will be scattered along the creekside which allow guests to ‘rough it’ in comfort and style. Our vision for this is so unique and beautiful; I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that it is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. After presenting the business plan to a lending board last year, I was unfortunately told to revisit the proposal after having a full year of bookings to prove the model, and could increase our equity position, as they require your equity position to be double the amount of the actual loan. The lending board had no previous experience with a proposal like this, and were basically too nervous to provide the funding.
Having said that, I am not detoured from the plan and will continue to grow and expand, it is just going to take a bit longer to get there. The growth potential for this space is really unlimited, and I am so excited to be a part of this.
As you’ve been reading, have you been thinking that YOUR family could use a getaway EXACTLY like this? That is what I hope this feature brings, that landing on this blog post, it spurs a decision to take a long overdue break with your family. It meant so much for me to go spend some time there with my family, the extra cuddles, the bird watching (the cardinals were our favourite!), and the sound of the creek, which we all felt was so relaxing (I didn’t even know how tense my shoulders were until I realized just how melted into the couch I was, lounging in total bliss!) Here are a few pictures from our stay, I would LOVE for you to tag @mleprout if you are able to get yourself to Parks Creek Retreat, it will warm my heart to know that my blog not only lit a fire under you to get some much-needed and often ignored self-care, but also that a family business, as magical and unique as Parks Creek Retreat, is getting the growth and attention needed to be able to treat guests like VIPs for years and years to come!
Gorgeous clock, but not necessary, as you won’t need to check the time while you are at Parks Creek Retreat 😉